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UNCF partners with minority groups to administer Gates Millennium Scholars program

Talented minorities who can contribute to society but can't afford college are encouraged to apply


Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) get funding for college, and leadership development advice to help them succeed. Scholars can go beyond an undergraduate degree with graduate studies in computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics and public health or science. A thousand minority students each year receive the award.

"We identify talented people who can contribute to society but may not be able to attend college for financial reasons," says Dr Carray Banks, Jr, who is a "reader" and ambassador for the program, as well as head of the department of technology at Norfolk State University (Norfolk, VA).

The GMS program is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Its goal is to open the door to higher education for African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander American and Hispanic American students who have distinguished themselves in community service and leadership as well as academically. The program is administered by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) in partnership with the American Indian Graduate Center Scholars, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund.

The UNCF also offers its own scholarship programs, supporting over 60,000 students in 900 colleges nationwide. GMS is one of more than 400 programs it administers, including internship and fellowship, mentoring, summer enrichment, and curriculum and faculty development programs.

GMS participants are leaders and volunteers
Scholars in the program have significant volunteer or aid work experiences, both as leaders and as participants. Of more than 16,000 scholarship recipients since the program began in 1999, more than 90 percent have completed degrees within six years.

Students must have both an academic nominator, someone familiar with their school records, and a community service recommender, someone who's familiar with their activities in the community. GED students are eligible.

As part of their applications, students submit eight essays, which are evaluated by the GMS committee. To be fair to all applicants, the committee divides into ethnic groups and reads the essays from applicants who share their ethnicity. That allows them to take cultural differences into account.

"Applicants' essays are assessed by their cultural peers," says Banks. "Each culture is different. Some brag, some don't. For some it's an honor to be the lead caretaker in your home."

TeAirra Brown is a GMS
Those eight essays initially intimidated TeAirra Brown, who became a Gates Scholar in 2009. She'd planned to write two application essays and re-use them for various college and scholarship applications. Essay subjects include what the applicant is most passionate about, a difficult challenge and how they overcame it, and their experiences as leaders in the community.

Brown's mother, a parking supervisor at Norfolk State, learned about the program from Banks. She insisted that her reluctant daughter complete those eight essays and apply. Banks was impressed as soon as he read her essays.

Brown had been accepted at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, VA) but she decided to attend Norfolk State where she felt like part of the family. She's majoring in computer science and computer engineering with a minor in math.

"I'm still in contact with people I met at the Gates Scholars conference my freshman year," says Brown, who's now a senior. "It's a great way to network with other Gates Scholars."

She's also in touch with her mentor, a computer science major at Tuskegee University (Tuskegee, AL). As a sophomore, she became a mentor to a CS major at Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN).

Gates scholars get hands-on experience
Brown worked at Elizabeth City State University (Elizabeth City, NC) in 2010, collecting water samples to provide baseline data in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In 2012, she was an intern with the College of Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA). The internship provides housing as well as cash to pay for expenses. Interns visited Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD) and Cisco (San Jose, CA) and were invited to GRE prep courses.

Teamed with her advisor and a PhD candidate, Brown worked on building applications for social networking. She developed an app for a transcendent social network for Georgia Tech students that allows them to connect face-to-face based on GPS location.

Banks seeks new applicants
As an ambassador for the program, Banks' mission is to spread the word about it, identify the top students and support them in applying.

"Educators typically know the students who should apply," he says.

There's no dollar amount attached to the scholarship, and it can last more than four years. By providing "last dollar funding," it bridges the gap between the student's financial aid package and what the student and his/her family can afford. Thus far, the Gates Foundation has endowed Gates Millennium Scholars with more than $1.6 billion. It's the largest single gift ever given to a scholarship organization.

Brown will continue pursuing her dream
After graduation in 2013, Brown plans to enter a PhD program at either Georgia Tech or Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA). After she gets her degree, she hopes to work in government research and then teach at the college level. Some day, she'd like to start her own nonprofit organization to inspire low-income middle school girls to aspire to professional goals.

"You can be successful even if you come from a low-income area," she says. "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. Dream big and believe that you can do anything."

D/C




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